FOXBORO, Mass. – They saw the best up close, and the best was impressive.
That was expected Monday. With the Jaguars practicing against the champs, you expected the other guys to be good. You expected a huge fan turnout at the training camp of one of the NFL's most popular franchises.
And you expected a certain quarterback to be the best player on the field.
All of that was so Monday when the Jaguars and defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots got together for the first of two dual practices this week at Gillette Stadium in advance of the teams' 2017 preseason opener in the same locale:
The Patriots indeed were good.
Their fans indeed were loud, plentiful – and very much out in force.
And Patriots quarterback Tom Brady indeed was very much the quarterbacking Gold Standard, and all that it means to a franchise.
What it means is everything, but the better question for the Jaguars Monday was this: will these two days help the Jaguars? Really?
Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone left no doubt.
"It's going to make our team better," Marrone said. "That was really the goal coming up here."
Go inside Monday's joint practice with the New England Patriots in Foxborough.
Yes, it was great for the Jaguars on Monday to not finally not be hitting teammates – and it was at least sort of cool to the Jaguars' younger players to go against Tom Terrific. Cornerback Doran Grant's interception off Brady on Monday will never appear in NFL statistics, but Grant just *might *remember it for a while.
But will it actually make the Jaguars better? Players agreed with Marrone …
Yeah, no doubt.
"It's improvement for each and every player," said wide receiver Marqise Lee, who has stood out throughout Jaguars 2017 Training Camp and who did so again Monday. "You get used to going against the same technique, as far as me going against [cornerback] A.J. [Bouye] 24-7. Now, I get a different technique with [Patriots cornerbacks] Malcolm Butler and [Stephen] Gilmore. They have different techniques even though they're on the same team.
"It also gives us the opportunity to get on the same page as quarterback Blake [Bortles], and gives Blake an opportunity to read a great defense like that."
We asked Bouye the same question. And while neither Bouye nor any Jaguars player talked about the Patriots or Brady in awed tones – "No one was star struck," Bouye said – there absolutely was respect in the words Bouye used when discussing the test the Jaguars' defense faced Monday.
"Going against the best quarterback in the NFL … we know how efficient their offense is," Bouye said. "They're smart with the ball. They don't cause many turnovers, so even to play tight coverage every down gives us a positive going into the next day."
Within that quote is a clue of where perhaps this week will help the Jaguars most. Going against the machine of efficiency and execution that is the Patriots' offense – even in the controlled environment that is a dual NFL practice – can't do anything but help. And it sure can't hurt. Raise your game close to their standard and you're raising it past most other teams.
Marrone during his post-practice press conference was asked if there was a better test than the Patriots for the Jaguars' defense. Marrone looked at the questioner a moment.
"No," he said.
Marrone wasn't being snide.
"It's a fact," he said. "I know everybody knows it. I really do."
The Patriots are indeed that good – and as Bouye said, they're smart with the ball, mind-numbingly so. If Brady's not the NFL's best quarterback, he's on a two-deep list with Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay. And he showed why during a stretch in practice Monday. When Brady delivers a pass, it's with pace and purpose – yes, even in practice. And when the Patriots' offense reached efficiency midway through practice, the results were impressive.
A 55-yard bomb from Brady to wide receiver Brandin Cooks here. A quick touchdown in the flat to wide receiver Chris Hogan there.
A touchdown pass from Brady to Cooks here.
A one-handed touchdown reception in the end zone by Cooks there.
The Jaguars weren't performing poorly during that stretch, and they didn't perform poorly throughout Monday. Not at all. Lee stood out early, and defensive Yannick Ngakoue was impressive. So was Bouye. And Bortles, despite being intercepted once, continued to be for the most part efficient and solid during '17 camp.
Still, despite playing really well at times, the Jaguars – at least during the aforementioned stretch – had to look at the Patriots and Brady and realize they were seeing a model franchise. There's a reason the Patriots are the Patriots, and it was on display – at least during the aforementioned stretch – Monday.
So, if one idea behind this trip for the Jaguars was for this young team to see the Gold Standard …
Well, mission accomplished. And as for the question … Will it help? Yeah, no doubt.
It certainly can't hurt.